Birth in Kate Chopin's The Awakening Essay

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Birth in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

Birth, whether of children or desires, plays a strong motif throughout The Awakening. The four components of childbirth, which Edna—the novel’s main character—recalls as she witnesses her friend Madame Ratignolle give birth, represent major themes Chopin emphasizes throughout her novel. These four components are “ecstasy of pain, the heavy odor of chloroform, a stupor which had deadened sensation, and an awakening to find a little new life” (133). In childbirth, the first three components are necessary to achieve the fourth: the awakening to find a new life. The same is true of Edna’s thematic self-discovery, only the sequence is slightly reordered. It begins instead with chloroform but ends
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This sort of domestic and social oppression is not abnormal, however, and Chopin makes a point of noting that Edna simply realizes it at a certain stage of her life.
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman. (34)

Chopin’s sarcasm in this passage indicates that women, at the time of her authorship, are routinely prevented from realizing that they are individuals both within the world and within themselves. Being an individual within the world entails doing as one pleases, and women in the late 1800s were generally not permitted to cater to their own whims—they had families to which to attend. Moreover, being individuals within themselves meant realizing their own desires, but by catering to the wills of others so routinely, many women such as Madame Ratignolle became so completely encompassed in the roles they assumed for other people that they became ignorant of their own interests and desires.

In living for other people, women such as Madame Ratignolle become prisoners to the second thematic condition of childbirth: the sensation-deadening stupor. In the wider

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